For voters who find it hard to distinguish one well-coached, neatly coiffed presidential candidate from another, Pasadena's Basil Tellou offers an eccentric alternative.
A former actor who lists "poet" and "mystic" among his professions, Tellou eschews the Brooks Brothers look for a latter-day-beatnik persona, replete with goatee and ever-present shades.
He recently announced his intention to win the presidency as a write-in candidate without party affiliation. If that strategy seems a tad unconventional, well so is Tellou.
The candidate--who says only that he is in his early 60s--espouses a political ideology containing bits and pieces of libertarianism, socialism, vegetarianism, patriotism and futurism. But in an age when aspirants for the presidency must win votes with 30-second TV spots, Tellou is willing to boil down his platform to two main issues.
"Purity and immortality are the themes of my campaign--clean air, no drugs, no gangs, no rock 'n' roll," he said.
So far, Tellou has no organized staff and carries his campaign treasury in his pocket. However, he has big plans, such as asking Rose Bird, former chief justice of California, to be his running mate.
To kick off his campaign, Tellou said he sent letters this month to elections officials in all 50 states, requesting that he be considered as a write-in candidate. The criteria for receiving write-in votes vary from state to state, ranging from stringent to non-existent.
In California, Tellou need simply submit a formal declaration of his candidacy. But since he is not affiliated with a major party, he is eligible only for the November general election, not the June primary.
To run in Illinois, Tellou needs to file papers with each of the 102 county clerks in the state. In Florida, he would have to provide the names of 21 registered voters there who would serve as his delegation to the Electoral College, should he carry the state.
"I'm hoping to be eligible in at least 25 states," Tellou said.
As a cost-effective means of campaigning, he plans to telephone newspapers and television and radio stations to get the word out to the far corners of the nation. If funds permit, he also hopes to tour the country in a van to press the flesh on the campaign trail.
In light of the recent trend toward former actors and clergymen entering politics, Tellou would seem to have a foot in each camp. In the early 1950s, he portrayed Jesus in "The Triumphant Hour," which he described as "the first class movie made for television."
A few years later, Tellou became a mystic and renounced his acting career "for spiritual reasons." He remains a spiritual man, having ascended to the post of "bishop" of Tellosophy, a discipline of which he is the founder and, as yet, sole adherent.
He believes that as a mystic possessing "the knowledge of ultimate reality," he has a leg up on the 13 major-party presidential aspirants. Unfettered by public opinion polls and the dictates of consultants, Tellou is free to plot a unique and, he argued, visionary course for America's future.
"Not one of those other presidential candidates is a true leader," he said, pounding the table at a fashionable Pasadena cafe for emphasis. "I am the best candidate since Jefferson."
Like Jefferson, Tellou is a fervent believer in the rights of the individual. Unlike the man from Monticello, however, he has no sprawling estate to call his home. Tellou, who describes himself as "financially independent," lives in a house trailer he shares with hundreds of books and his cat, Nijinsky.
From such humble beginnings, Tellou hopes to seize the imagination of the American electorate. The White House, however, would be only a steppingstone to his ultimate goal: to be proclaimed America's first philosopher-king by plebiscite. If that idea sounds undemocratic, Tellou argued, so be it.
"Democracy and communism are both enemies . . . of the individual," he said. "The only political safeguard for an individual is an aristocracy, an aristocracy not necessarily composed of persons of title or pedigree but rather of persons who are exceptionally gifted--the intelligentsia, mystics, artists, poets, writers."
In Tellou's ideal America, scientists would receive unlimited funds to investigate new technologies, particularly his favorite: cryogenics--the freezing of corpses in the belief that future generations will possess the knowledge to bring them back to life.
However, scientists would have to conduct their research without experimenting on animals. Vivisection would be taboo, as would the caging of animals and the eating of meat.
People would also receive more humane treatment if Tellou had his way, as he would liberate them from their labors.
"My system is to bring food, shelter and medical care to everybody to get them out from under the yoke of having to work," he said. "You've got to give them a chance to develop. You've got to give them time to read, instead of going to work, watching television and going to bed. That's a robotized life."
When people are not enjoying their new-found leisure time on Earth, Tellou would have them working on the construction of elaborate space cities, to provide a haven if the planet is destroyed, whether by a natural or man-made catastrophe.
Tellou acknowledges that some of his ideas might be a few years ahead of their time. He sees the goal of his campaign as not so much to win but to make people think.
"I want to awaken them to the fury of truth," he said animatedly. "I want to be an alarm clock--Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Time to wake up, man, and see what's happening to the country!. . . I don't bring you the false peace that keeps you asleep. I bring you the fury that awakens your soul."